Comedian Jessica Kirson is more than one person. Behind the mic all her different shades come out -- the self-deprecating anxious woman, the overly blunt senior citizen from Florida, the jerky sexist male, the list goes on. However, they all share the common denominator of making people bust their gut.
Since 1999, Kirson has been performing stand-up after her grandmother insisted she pursue a career in comedy due to her ability to crack up her entire family.
When she appears on TV (“Crashing,” “Kevin Can Wait,” “The Jim Gaffigan Show”) Kirson steals whatever scene she is in. In 2016, she went toe-to-toe with Robert De Niro on the silver screen in “The Comedian” and she will appear in Judd Apatow’s next film, “The King of Staten Island.” Plus, she has a hit podcast called “Relatively Sane” and a popular Comedy Central special, “Talking to Myself.”
Calling from her West Hempstead home, Kirson spoke with Newsday reporter David J. Criblez prior to her March 14 appearance at Governor’s Comedy Club in Levittown.
Do you remember the first time you went on stage?
I took a stand-up class at Caroline’s in Manhattan and at the end I performed with 35 family members there. I was so panicked I had to work with a therapist to get over my fear of being on stage. I couldn’t do it. I was throwing up. I still get freaked out and nervous but you have to hide it. You have to look confident no matter what.
How have you changed and evolved?
I used to bring up a piece of paper and be literally panicked. But what I’ve learned is the more you don’t care, the better you do on stage. I realized that if I killed, it could do nothing and if I bombed, it’s not the end of the world. So I just stopped caring and it was very freeing.
During your show you do a bit where you turn your back to the crowd and talk to yourself. How did that develop?
It came from my therapy background and my mom being a therapist. One night a joke didn’t work and I literally turned around with my back to the crowd and talked to myself. For a long time it didn’t get any laughs. I discovered over the years that the only time it works is when a joke doesn’t kill or there’s an uncomfortable feeling in the room. If I’m killing and I do it, it makes no sense. I had to learn that the hard way.
What’s the difference between Jessica Kirson on stage and off?
I’m more impatient and assertive on stage. I don’t love conflict but when I’m on stage I can deal with it. I feel more powerful on stage because I’m above people with a microphone, which makes me louder. I’m not as afraid or defensive. I feel much more insecure in real life. Dealing with people in the real world is not easy.
You appeared in and worked on the 2016 Taylor Hackford film, “The Comedian.” How did that come about and what was your role?
I was performing at the Comedy Cellar and Robert De Niro was there with director Taylor Hackford. He loved my character stuff and I turned around and said, “It doesn’t matter who is here, nothing is going to happen.” I geared it towards them and they were laughing. I got a call from Taylor Hackford saying, “Bob wants to meet you on Monday.” I said, “Bob, who?” I was in shock. I met De Niro and it was like we had known each other for years. I have no idea why but I was not starstruck. He was just a regular guy to me. I didn’t act weird around him and I think he liked that. I ended up teaching him how to do stand-up for his role. He wore an earpiece when he was on the mic so I was in his ear the whole time telling him what to say and improv. He said it was the hardest thing he ever did.
What moment in your career turned things around?
When I was starting out people would say, “Don’t do characters, don’t make faces, don’t do crowd work.” The minute I stopped listening to what everybody had to say and did what I thought was right for me, everything just exploded. Every time I listened to people, it didn’t end up going well. So I took risks and simply just let go.